Interpreting Terminus Fluctuations at Helheim Glacier, Southeast Greenland, through Modeling and Observations

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Laura M Kehrl, Ian R Joughin and Daniel Shapero, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, United States
Marine-terminating outlet glaciers are highly sensitive to changes at the ice-ocean boundary. Changes at the ice-ocean boundary (calving events, submarine melting) can alter the terminus position and thereby the stress balance. If the terminus retreats into deeper water, more of the driving stress must then be balanced by longitudinal stress gradients, which cause the glacier to speed up. This study combines satellite observations and modeling (Elmer/Ice) to investigate the relationship between glacier dynamics and terminus position at Helheim Glacier, southeast Greenland, from 2000-2014. Helheim Glacier retreated about 7 km from 2001-2005 as warm ocean water entered the nearby fjord. From 2005-2006, the glacier re-advanced by 3 km as a floating or near-floating ice tongue formed over the basal overdeepening in front of the glacier terminus. Since then, Helheim’s terminus position has remained relatively stable, with terminus fluctuations of < 2 km. Our model experiments consider both large terminus fluctuations (> 2 km) associated with rapid retreat and small terminus fluctuations (< 500 m) associated with individual calving events. We run the model simulations with both a flowline and three-dimensional model to better constrain our uncertainties. Our results show that Helheim Glacier responds rapidly to changes in terminus position of more than a few hundred meters. Small terminus fluctuations can cause velocity variations that extend up to 30 km inland, which roughly corresponds with the spatial extent of the weak bed (20-40 kPa) underneath Helheim Glacier.